Asheville, North Carolina, has long been a hidden gem in the hills of Appalachia, garnering the affections of a slew of famed folks, from tycoons like Vanderbilt to artists like Fitzgerald. But the Depression left Asheville in a storied slump; the city struggled with decades of debt, dampening its industry and tourism, its storefronts and cityscape waning into near dilapidation. Despite those decades of gloom, recent years have found Asheville not just succeeding, but flourishing. Those battered buildings were refurbished and converted into history-rich shops and restaurants that still boast the archival imprints of bygone eras, and paired with the scenic backgrounds of the Blue Ridge, Asheville is now one of the most picturesque whistle-stops in the South. But she’s not just a pretty face; this little city has the eats, arts, and brews to woo even the most stalwart sightseer.
- Sip, Sup, and Savor at South Slope South Slope’s Buxton Hall Barbecue is a newcomer to the local barbecue scene, but already a favoriteAsheville became the unofficial East Coast capital of the burgeoning beer world some time ago, and it’s at South Slope that she stakes her claim. The crisscrossed and jumbled streets just south of downtown are home to some of the city’s best breweries, including a recently expanded Green Man, local favorite Burial Beer Co., and the sour sister to Wicked Weed, the Funkatorium.
But if you’re really looking to savor South Slope like a certified local, take a jaunt through the Banks Avenue trifecta. Clamber up to the peak of the street and satiate that appetite you’ve worked up with a trip to Buxton Hall Barbecue. Here you’ll find Asheville’s unique blend of hip and historic as you fill up on locally-sourced barbecue prepared slow and low and take in the white-washed walls emblazoned with the flaking murals of a ’30’s era skating rink. Once you’ve gorged on the porcine pleasures at Buxton, waddle your way next door to Catawba Brewing. Pony up to the bar and grab a locally-bred brew, and then settle in for some live entertainment: more nights than not, Catawba provides guests with the banjo-pickin’ and fiddle-fingerin’ of some mountain-bound musicians. Once you’ve made room for dessert, just traipse one more door down to Vortex Doughnuts and feast upon fantastical and regionally-themed sweets (our recommendation: Salted Carmel Bacon, topped with local Chop Shop Butchery smoked bacon).
- Take a HikeCraggy Gardens is one of the closest hikes to Asheville and one of the most rewarding (photo courtesy of Amplified Media)Nestled in the broad hollows of dozens of mountains, Asheville is a hiker’s heaven. Wander up the Blue Ridge Parkway (a notable to-do in itself) and you’ll stumble upon dozens of noted trails, dotted with sweeping vistas memorialized by illustrious explorers and dreadlocked AT hikers alike. If you’re looking for a little hike with big reward, try Craggy Gardens: the thirty-minute trek will deposit you at the peak of a panorama where you can take in vast views of the Black Mountains. For a uniquely Appalachian adventure, try a trail that features a “bald.” Found only in the Appalachian region, balds are grassy meadows at elevations too warm for alpine growth and too high for local deciduous timbers. Max Patch is a quick one-mile jaunt with one of the most beautiful balds in the Blue Ridge, plus a peek at a piece of the Appalachian Trail.
- Stop and Smell the Roses at Biltmore Estate Rather than spend your hours in the hallowed but confining halls of the house, spend your time exploring the incredible grounds at Biltmore EstateWe know, we know, you’ve heard it before—but a trip to Asheville just wouldn’t be complete without a trip to America’s grandest estate. And rather than spend all your time “cooped up” in the cavernous rooms of the house itself, head outdoors to explore the incredible, sweeping grounds. Often overlooked, Biltmore’s gardens and grounds are a testament to the boundless vision of Vanderbilt and Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s foremost landscape architect. Stroll through manicured gardens, bloom-laden verandas, and the lush and humid conservatories. Amble down miles upon miles of trails that meander through acres of flowering fields and managed forests and wander along the bubbling banks of the French Broad. The 250–room abode itself is a mere pinprick in the midst of 8,000 acres of verdant, varied valleys.
- Face the Music There’s plenty of live music to check out around Asheville, from street side buskers to bigger acts at The Orange PeelThe soul of the mountains has long sung along to the musical musings of her inhabitants: fiddles, banjos, guitars, washboards, and even spoons become prodigal music-makers in the hands of Appalachian artists, their tunes ringing through local streets and glades. With a history engrained with those storied sounds, it’s no wonder that Asheville is home to a near-boundless selection of live music. Stroll the streets and throw a couple coins in the proffered hat of a busker (keep an eye out for Spoon Lady), or slide into a pub or brewery for a taste of rough-and-tumble bluegrass. If you’re in the mood for something slightly more professional, snag a ticket at one of the city’s music venues, like the Orange Peel downtown, or head to trendy West Asheville for a show at Isis Music Hall or Mothlight.
- Seek Inspiration in the River Arts District The River Arts District is home to over 200 artists and studios—plus great food and brewsLike many of Asheville’s hipper ’hoods, the bones of the River Arts District are made up of refurbished industrial and historical buildings, transformed from abandoned edifices into a thriving artists’ enclave. Situated along a mile stretch of the French Broad River, the River Arts District, or RAD, consists of twenty-two buildings housing over 200 artists and their studios. These artists work in every medium imaginable, from paint and pencil to pottery and metal. You won’t find hours posted or a strict schedule online, but if you wander around the picturesque district you’re bound to find dozens of artists at work and studios open to wager on wares.
- Float Down the French BroadIn the summertime, grab a tube and a cooler, and enjoy the warm waters of the French Broad (photo courtesy of Asheville Outdoor Center)Asheville is most definitely a Southern city, and that means the summer is hot, prompting her residents and visitors to flock to the nearest body of water—namely, the French Broad River. The French Broad is the namesake and inspiration for so many Asheville icons, and there’s a reason why: this lazy, languid river is warm and welcoming—much like Asheville herself. With locally-owned companies like Zen Tubing, visitors can grab a high-quality, squashy tube and a ride up the river, then leisurely float down, making pit-stops at breweries along the way. Throw your trusty cooler on a fattened floatie, and you’ve got yourself the perfect Southern summer day.
- Go Coo-Coo for Cocoa at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge French Broad Chocolate Lounge beckons passerby from central Pack SquareSpeaking of French Broad’s namesakes: cap your trip off with a stop at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. The local chocolatiers recently moved into a stunning and substantial space in the heart of downtown on the periphery of Pack Square, its facade painted in the company’s iconic sugary blue. Chocoholics will be struck dumb at the sight of cases upon cases stacked with chocolates, truffles, caramels, brownies, cakes, pies, and everything else their cocoa-dusted hearts desire. When the cold winds of winter blow through Asheville, you’ll find dozens of customers inside huddled around steaming drinking chocolates—thick and rich ganache-based beverages, these are the literal equivalent of liquid truffles.